Tag Archives: Grace

The Swivel Chair

When you hear the words “sin” and “repent”, does it make you want to run screaming in the other direction?  That was me.  I was an atheist for the first 22 years of my life and I had absolutely no interest in anything having to do with God or Christianity.  Thankfully, that all changed in 1994 (you can read that story here: Joshua the Prophet).

After following Christ for about 20 years, I felt like God gave me some clarity on the words “sin” and “repent” and I wrote a very short post about them last year.  Have you read it?  If not, you can check it out here: Two “churchy” words

For the past year, every time I read the Bible, I read it in the light of what those words now mean to me.  And it’s brought such clarity that I want to share more with you.  How can I make it crystal clear?

The Swivel Chair in my mind
The Swivel Chair in my mind

How about this?  I have a swivel chair in my office.  I can choose to turn it in all different directions.  I can turn toward the computer, the printer, the file cabinet or the hallway.  It’s my choice.

Imagine that there is a swivel chair in each of our minds.  We have the choice of which direction we turn our thoughts.  But unlike the swivel chair in my office, imagine that this chair can only face one of two directions.  It can turn toward God or away from God.  And, just like in my office chair, we have the choice of which way we turn.

If it were up to God, there would be one moment in every human being’s life when we realize that we are not the king of our own universe, but that He is the King of the universe.  In that moment when we turn to God, acknowledging that He is our creator and the ultimate authority in our life, thanking Him for sending Jesus to take on our sin, we are what Christians call “saved”.  That decision is called “salvation”, when we are “born again” (John 3:3).

But it’s not up to God.  That’s not the kind of world He created.  Instead of creating robots,  He created human beings with free will.  Why?  Because He created us to be in a love relationship with Him.  If He demanded that we love Him, that wouldn’t be love.  Love requires choice.  And the choice is up to us.  He already made His choice.  He loves us no matter what.  But His desire is that we would choose to love Him back.

And when we choose to love Him back, accepting His love and forgiveness, we’re “saved”, as the Apostle Paul explains in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)

But God speaks in the Bible over and over again about “repentance”; changing our mind and turning to Him.  Why do we need repentance if we’ve already turned to God?  Isn’t once good enough?  Are we unsaved and then we get saved again and again and again?

Nope.  Salvation happens one time.  But we are human.  The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 7 that our fallen human “sinful nature” draws us back to our own devices over and over again.  Probably a million times each day, our thoughts turn away from God and back to our own selfish desires.  And that is “sin”.  That is turning away from God.  That is “missing the mark”.

Think about that swivel chair in our mind.  There are only two directions:

  1. Sin (pride, “missing the mark”) = trying to figure out life on my own
  2. Faith (humility, repentance, “changing one’s mind”) = turning to God for His direction

Romans 14:23 says that “everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

From the swivel chair, that makes perfect sense.  There are only two directions: Faith or Sin.  We can look to God and see the world through His eyes (Faith) or we can look at the world however we think is best (Sin).  “There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.”  Proverbs 16:25 (NLT)

God created us to have a relationship with Him.  Intimacy with Him is the goal.  Not following the rules, but following Jesus. Not perfection, but following the Perfect One.

In Beth Moore’s “Living Free” study, she quotes a friend who was far from God, depressed and broken.  Her friend said, “I thought I couldn’t come to God with this sin in my life.”  When I read that, my heart broke for her.  I wanted her to understand that not coming to God WAS the sin in her life.  Turn around.  Come to Him.  That is repentance.  That is faith.  That is humility.

In “Living Free”, Beth goes on to say that “prayer keeps us in constant communion with God, which is the goal of our entire believing lives.  Prayerless lives are powerless lives, and prayerful lives are powerful lives; but, believe it or not, the ultimate goal God has for us is not power but personal intimacy with Him.”

He loves us.  He created us.  He wants us, warts and all.  He knows we’re messed up.  He knows we’re broken.  But that brokenness is not sin.  That is part of being human.  Our sin is our turning away from Him.  Repentance is turning back, confident that He is waiting to receive us with open arms.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

Beth Moore continues her study with the question, “How is intimacy with God different from the goal of being good enough to be acceptable to God?”  Here is my answer.  And my prayer is that it can be your answer as well.

Intimacy with You, my God, is knowing that, because I turned to Jesus who took on my sin, my “turning away”,  and accepted Him as my Lord and Savior, I’m already good enough, covered in Your grace, reclining at Your banqueting table, resting with You, my creator, enjoying Your presence and knowing that You enjoy me, just as I am.

Go ahead.  Read that again.  In the swivel chair of your mind, turn to God, seeing the huge  smile on His face, and read those words to Him.  He’s so happy to see you.

“For the Lord your God is living among you.
He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
With his love, he will calm all your fears.
He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
-Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT)

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Grace, Truth and Audacious Dreams

Beth Moore’s new book “Audacious” was inspired by two questions:

1) What is your dream?
2) What is your vision for the future?

Those two questions lead me to a statement by Pastor Tim Keller which I’ve heard quoted over and over again:

“The gospel is this:  We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” 

I completely agree with that statement, but at the same time, I feel very condemned by the first half of it.  Yes, I know that I am sinful and flawed.  I get that.  And I get stuck in it.  But when I read the book “The Cure” this past April, I was overwhelmed by the amazing grace and love of God.  I felt like I might actually be able to live in the second half of Tim Keller’s statement that I am “more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ” than I ever dared hope.

But some will read that “The Cure” is about God’s grace and immediately the flags go up.  You can’t teach people to live in grace!  Won’t they:

  1. Have permission to sin?
  2. Stop praying, serving, giving and reading the Bible?
  3. Get lazy and stop striving for excellence?
  4. Treat God like their “buddy” instead of the Holy Creator of Everything?
  5. Lose their drive to “be all they can be”?

However, the “grace police” need not be concerned.  God’s grace is not a “get out of jail free” card because living in grace is not complete without also living in truth.

Chris Zarbaugh did a beautiful job explaining how Grace and Truth work together in our “Christian Redefined” series back on March 8, 2015 in a message called “The One Two Punch” (unfortunately, there is no video for this message, but the audio is posted).  Here’s the picture and explanation you’re missing without the video:

High Grace + Low Truth = Enabled

Low Grace + Low Truth = Unloved

Low Grace + High Truth = Judged

High Grace + High Truth = Loved

Grace + Truth = Enabled, Unloved, Judged or Loved
Grace + Truth = Enabled, Unloved, Judged or Loved

Chris quoted John 1:14:  “The Word (Jesus) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  And Chris was very specific that “full of grace and truth” doesn’t mean that Jesus balanced grace and truth, but that He was the full measure of grace and truth.  So, what does that mean?  Here’s how Chris put it:

Grace says “you’re forgiven”.  Truth says “you’re accountable”.

Grace says “it’s gonna be alright”.  Truth says “you’ve got a lot of work to do”.

Grace says “I love you just as you are”.  Truth says “please change”.

I’ve always heard, “God loves you just as you are, but He loves you too much to leave you that way.”  But that always sounded like a back-handed compliment to me, until I read “The Problem of Pain” by CS Lewis.  Here’s how he put it in the chapter called “Divine Goodness”:

“We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the Divine love may rest “well pleased”. To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable. We cannot even wish, in our better moments, that He could reconcile Himself to our present impurities — no more than the beggar maid could wish that King Cophetua should be content with her rags and dirt, or a dog, once having learned to love man, could wish that man were such as to tolerate in his house the snapping, verminous, polluting creature of the wild pack. What we would here and now call our “happiness” is not the end God chiefly has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.”

Living in the full measure of God’s grace and truth allows us to mature into who God sees we can become.  For God to say that we’re fine as we are and that we can stay that way would not be loving.  That would be enabling.  Yes, God loves us immeasurably.  He could not possibly love us more.  But in loving us, He sees our potential.  He sees the beauty that is in store.  And He longs to see us blossom into that beauty.

“Consider the caterpillar.  If we brought a caterpillar to a biologist and asked him to analyze it and describe its DNA, he would tell us, “I know this looks like a caterpillar to you.  But scientifically, according to every test, including DNA, this is fully and completely a butterfly…. The caterpillar matures into what is already true about it.”  –“The Cure” Chapter Three

As human beings loved by God, we, like caterpillars, also have the potential to mature into what is already true about us.  Living in a continual state of false guilt, thinking we “gotta do more, gotta be more” (remember “Dead Poets Society“?) is paralyzing.  I know I can’t do it, so feel like my only option is to give up.  Living in a continual state of God’s Grace, knowing that He loves me and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and that He’s not waiting for me to get it right and be perfect, frees me to be who He created me to be.  That’s the Truth part.  Taking personal responsibility for the gifts He has given me.  Being a steward of this body, mind and soul that He’s allowed me to borrow for a little while.

So, what about those two questions that inspired Beth Moore?

1) What is your dream?
2) What is your vision for the future?

So many non-Christians feel that their lives are “just dandy” without Jesus, not realizing that they’re living outside of their full potential.  And so many Christ-followers, paralyzed in our fear that we don’t deserve Jesus, don’t realize that we’re also living outside of our full potential.  So no one acts.  Passivity reigns.  The result?  Look around.  Too many people live ineffective lives and the world goes to hell in a hand-basket.  That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

My dream and my vision for the future is two-fold:

1) That those who don’t yet know Christ could fully grasp and act upon the first part of Tim Keller’s quote: we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe. Truth: we need Jesus.  

2) That those who do know Christ could fully grasp and act upon the second part of Tim Keller’s quote: we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.  Grace: Jesus needs us.  

If every person in the world lived in the full measure of the Grace and Truth of Jesus, what could this world become?

What to do, what to do… (“Christian Redefined” part 3)

When you think of “Christians”, what words come to mind?  Kensington asked that question on Reddit and here are some of the responses they received:  “rude, ignorant, unthinking, thick-headed, delusional, gullible, doomsday cult, dummy, hypocrisy, cruel, blinkered, judgmental, stuck-up wealthy white people who work harder to preserve their image rather than their souls.” 

Ouch.  And why would I want to call myself a Christian?  That’s why Kensington’s current message series is called “Christian Redefined” (click those red words to watch the first message from 3-1-15).  When I found out that this series was coming, I started writing about what I think it means to be a Christian.  I intended it to be 3 parts, and I wrote about training ourselves to say Thank You (part 1) and Bless You (part 2).  

But whenever I started to write this third part, I couldn’t finish.  Every time I asked, “Lord, what’s next?  What is the best thing for me to do right now?”, the answer was never “write”.  Three weeks ago, the answer was “pack for Disney World!”  But now we’re home and caught up and it’s finally time to write.

The third area of training I’ve been wanting to write about is asking “what am I to do?”  For me, that question isn’t about what to do next week or next year as much as it is a constant, moment by moment activity.  Well, at least I want it to be that way.  But my mind wanders and I forget.

I forget to count my blessings.

I forget to say thank you and bless you.

I forget that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

I forget that God loves me more than I could ever imagine.

Almost 300 years ago Samuel Johnson said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed” and I believe that’s even more true today.  I get so distracted.  I need God’s Holy Spirit to remind me to come back to Him.  My goal is what Brother Lawrence called “The Practice of the Presence of God“.  If I want to follow Jesus, I need to be aware of his presence every moment of every day.  I need to remember that he is always with me.  And I need to be asking what it is that I should be doing.  There are so many good things that we could spend our time on.  How are we supposed to know what the BEST things are?  One word:

Ask.

Jesus teaches us to be shamelessly persistent in asking for what we need in Luke 11:5-8 (click the red verse if you’d like to read what he said).  He then continues with the following:

“And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  10 For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks, finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Luke 11:9-10

In John 5:19, Jesus said that he did nothing by himself, but did only what he saw his Father doing.  He was in constant communication with God the Father.  I believe he wants the same for us.  He gave us his Holy Spirit so that we too can be in constant communication with God.

So, as I am reminded, I ask.  Sometimes I hear things that I should do (help the kids get ready for school).  Or things I shouldn’t do, or just shouldn’t do right now (don’t do the laundry right now – it will make you late for your appointment).  Sometimes I hear things that I should say (send a note of encouragement).  Or things that I shouldn’t say (keep your mouth shut, Beth).  Sometimes it’s as simple as keeping focused on the task before me and not letting my mind spiral off into anxious “what if”s of future scenarios that may never happen (what if John dies and leaves me with two kids and a tackle store to run?).

What am I to do?  How can I live my life so that the word “Christian” means what Jesus would have wanted it to mean?  I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but I believe I know the One who does.  But I need to slow down to hear Him.  I need to be patient and listen.  I have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  I should be listening at least twice as much as I’m talking.

If you know the story of the woman caught in adultery from John 8, you may have wondered why Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust.  The Pharisees (the “religious” scholars) were demanding an answer from him.  They had their case against this woman and they were trying to trap Jesus by his words.  He could have just blurted out an answer to the Pharisees, but he didn’t.  He stooped down, drew in the dirt and waited.  I believe he waited because he was listening for what God wanted him to say.  And when he stood to speak, his reply was one of the most profound statements ever formed by human lips:

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  (John 8:7)

And, one by one, they all dropped their stones and walked away.  What if Christians (the “religious” people) listened to God like Jesus did and responded with God’s grace and truth?  Would we be called rude, ignorant, unthinking, thick-headed, delusional, cruel, judgmental, stuck-up hypocrites?  Or would a whole lot of stones never get thrown?

 

 

The Face of Grace (Part 5)

The Tyranny of the “Should” left off at “How is it that the Lord loves me so that He sends people like this to me? I don’t deserve that kind of love.”

What do I deserve?  I felt stuck somewhere between Jordan’s Elmo game yelling “Keep trying!  Keep trying!” and Yoda’s, “There is no Try.  There is Do or Do Not.”  Oh, Lord, what “should” I do?

Over the last 20 years, I’ve slowly found pieces to my puzzle, and a big piece fell into place after Beth Moore’s September 14, 2013 Living Proof Live simulcast.  Beth’s 2013 theme was “Under Grace” vs “Under Law” from Romans 6:14 (NLT): “Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law.  Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.”

Freedom?  All I felt was failure after failure, guilty as charged.  But Beth taught that even though sin may increase, grace doesn’t just increase, it abounds (Rom. 5:15).  Abundant grace.  “Drown me in your infinite grace.”  I pictured a teeny tiny “Finding Nemo” clown fish of sin swimming in an ocean of grace.

That picture kept coming back to me all week, and on Thursday, September 19th, I believe  God gave me a picture of how He really sees me.  I drew the picture in my journal, with my limited artistic ability, using stick figures.  Saturday morning the 21st, Jordan Rose came in to join me as I was journaling again.  I showed her the picture and explained it to her.  She was so excited that she wanted to draw it too.  I’ve attached the picture that she drew below.  Here is what I explained to Jordan:

1) God is always looking at us, loving us, never leaving us.  “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.”  (Deut. 31:6 & Hebr. 13:5).  Just as the Father watched for his Prodigal Son (Luke 15:20), waiting for him to come home, not so that he could punish him, but so that he could celebrate the fact that he was home.  He’s not angry with us.  He waits for us, filled with love and compassion.

2) I am that Prodigal Son.  I want my inheritance now and I want to go do my own thing.  That is turning away from God, and it leads to one of two things:  (1) I look at my dirty face in the mirror (my selfishness, pride, hopelessness, depression, anxiety, indifference, self-pity, whining, complaining, etc) and, unable to clean up my act, I see a reflection from behind me, like a wavy, distorted funhouse mirror, and God looks backwards and angry to me, or (2) I look at the things of the world, trying to forget about my dirty face and make myself feel better (food, shopping, people-pleasing, perfectionism, being a “good girl”, self-medicating, etc).

3) Jesus took on our sin – our “turning away” from God – on the cross.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Matt. 27:46 & Ps. 22:1).  Jesus had never turned away from God before (he had never sinned), so he felt forsaken as he looked out into the abyss that we see when we turn away from God.  Jesus took on all of the “turning away” of all people for all time, nailed it to the cross, buried it, and rose again, leaving it all behind.  

4) When we turn around (repent) and look into the face of God, we are living under Grace, coming back to the Father who loves us.  When we look at our “dirty faces” in the mirror (trying to clean ourselves up) or at the things of the world (trying to fill the hole in our soul), we are living under the Law, turning away from God.

5) Our only job is to turn around.  Turn from the mirror (staring at your dirty face won’t clean it), turn from the things of this world (they won’t fill that emptiness) and turn back to God (only He can clean us and fill us).  “What is the work that God requires?  To believe in the one He has sent.”  (John 6:28-29).  Look to Jesus, thankful that he took it all on cross.  Turn to God and see the Face of Grace smiling back at us.  He’s so thrilled that we’re home.

Click here for Part 6

"Under Grace" vs "Under Law" by Jordan Rose 9-21-13“Under Grace” vs “Under Law” by Jordan Rose (7 yrs old), drawn on 9-21-13

“Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.” Romans 5:2 (NLT)